A wine meetup review for National Wine Day

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Domaine de Dionysus 2010 and fromage Morbier

Let me start by saying Happy National Wine Day! Like I need a reason to drink wine every day!

On Monday night, we started off what has become an insanely busy week with a casual wine and cheese ‘meetup.’ For my international readers, a ‘meetup’ is an event created on meetup.com. This is a site where anyone can organize an event to bring people with mutual interests together whether its movies, bowling, or wine. My wife and I have joined a few of these particular to wine to learn more and enjoy our love of wine with others in our area, and make some new friends.  This one had a local wine shop, cheesemonger, and wine importer team up to provide all the wine and cheese and choices, as well as discounts on the wines at the shop if you were part of the event.

It was held at a brand new wine bar in my hometown in Connecticut, not far from where we live now. The organizer chose French wines as the theme, and paired them all with French cheeses. There were three whites (well 2 whites and a rosé) and 3 reds, 2 wines of which I had never had. Care was taken in each case to properly pair the cheese to the wine, with great results.

The first wine was one I had not had before, a Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Sur Lie (this means it was left on the lees for a period of time, adding some more complexity), from the coastal Nantes region of the Loire. It is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which has become synonymous with Muscadet. This is touted as ‘the perfect oyster wine.’ Unfortunately, I don’t eat shellfish, so the goat cheese (Chabichou du Poitu) did the trick, and I really enjoyed the crisp, refreshing citrus and peach flavors of this wine. Though probably not my favorite white, it was nice to experience something new. This was one I remember studying in my class, but that we hadn’t had in a tasting. It was a Pierre-Luc Bouchaud 2010.

Next up was a wonderful Vignerons de Correns Croix de Basson Côtes de Provence Rosé – made with Grenache, Cinsault and Cabernet Sauvignon. This was only slightly different than the other rosé I had this week which saw Carignan in place of the Cab. Both were very good, and it was interesting to have both in one week to be able to compare the flavors. This one, using Cabernet for structure, was a little chalkier than the one with the Carignan. It was paired with a Saint-Angel triple-cream which was to die for, and definitely one of the best cheeses there.

Third was a 2008 Pfaffenheim Alsatian Pinot Gris. There were 3 magnums from the importer’s own cellar, and if you thought these bottles were a fun shape to begin with, you should see them in this size! A beautifully rounded wine with light body, and the expected floral, apricot and orange flavors. Paired with a Fromage de Meaux Brie, it was a perfect match. Though to echo the organizer’s sentiments, this wine would go with just about any cheese.

The reds started off with a Domaine de Dionysos Côte de Rhône “Le Deveze” 2010. This was your typical CdR with all the classic flavors of black cherry, plum fruit and vanilla (from the oak) from the usual suspects of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, and Carignan. Straightforward but satisfying and paired with a Morbier, a semi-soft cow’s milk cheese that was a bit plain but perhaps appropriate.

I was more than happy to try the next one, a Domaine du Grand Montmirial Vacqueyras 2009. It is also a southern Rhône, but a step up to a recently-promoted vineyard site, Vacqueyras (in 1990). I have never had one of these, and just learned about this and neighboring Gigondas during my last WSET class.  Gigondas requires a further 30% of Grenache and are considered even more refined than this. Being of a higher appellation, one would expect a better wine than the regional Rhône I just had, and you’d be right in this case. A powerful, punchy blend of Grenache and Syrah, ripened beautifully to a thick purple hue, with help from the ‘galets roules’ (or ‘pudding stones’), also found in its famous neighbor, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The steep southwestern-facing hillside vineyards also provide the perfect amount of sun exposure and drainage for ripening, as does the Mediterranean climate and a long hot and dry growing season. This purple is clearly the Syrah showing, and it had a nice full body, well-integrated tannins, low acidity, and some cassis and blackberry aromas. It paired beautifully with the Abbaye de Belloc sheep’s milk cheese provided.  This was probably my favorite wine of the night, being such a fan of reds, Rhône reds among them.

Last was a Château de Macard Bordeaux Supérieur (means higher quality and can age better, aged a minimum 12 months before sold) 2009, paired with a Bleu d’Avergne. I’m nuts about blue cheese, and Bordeaux is a brilliant match. The cheese really cuts through the tannin so well. This was a well-balanced wine with the typical blackberry and blackcurrant flavors and tobacco and baking spice notes from the French oak. What I really enjoyed about this one is that the Cabernet Franc dominated at 50% and there was no mistaking it on the nose especially. I’ve been loving Cab Franc lately, having had many on the North Fork that were made brilliantly on their own. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon fill out the remainder of the blend.

All in all this was a fun, delicious, and educational social gathering for wine lovers, especially once I loosened up a little from the wine and felt more chatty. If you live in the states, definitely check out meetup’s website. There are a lot of new groups popping up all the time, and we have since signed up for more wine-related events in our area including the Connecticut Wine Festival, which we are really looking forward to.  This weekend I also plan to play our wine nerd game, and pick up some top Sancerre and a 99-point Pinot Noir and share my experiences with you next week. Have a great weekend and Memorial day if you are in the United States!

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Renault Winery, Egg Harbor City, NJ

Founder Louis Nicholas Renault

This past weekend, my wife and I were staying in Atlantic City for an event and while looking through the regional attractions brochures at the hotel, discovered a brochure for New Jersey’s wine country and another specifically on the Renault Winery. A mere 8 miles from our hotel, in Egg Harbor City, we made the obvious choice to pay a visit to Renault. While I’d heard there were vineyards in just about every state, whether a recognized AVA or not (this one is part of south Jersey’s outer coastal plain AVA), I really was not expecting to find this little gem right off the beaten path of Atlantic City. Apparently, it is one of the oldest wine-growing regions in the country.  According to the receptionist who offered us a full tour and tasting (we were in a pinch for time so did not do the tour) it is the oldest continuously running vineyard, and second oldest continuously running winery in the country. It is definitely the oldest in the state, and was started by Louis Nicholas Renault – an immigrant from France – in 1864. His father and grandfather were barrel-makers in Champagne.

Shoot and leaf growth

As this is my first year as a true oenophile, I was thrilled as we were driving up to the winery to discover significant shoot and leaf growth on the roadside vineyard sites. When we spent our wedding anniversary in the North Fork of Long Island in March (that will be another entry), there was no budburst yet. This is also my first season of observing the vine and grape growth from beginning to end. Plus, it’s much more fun to experience this way than a chart in a book.  For this reason we plan to visit more wineries in June and July, and I may have the opportunity to visit Bordeaux at harvest.  I can’t think of a more special place to experience it.

Antique wine-making equipment

The decor includes many frescoes, a vintage ‘glass museum’ and a room full of antique wine-making equipment spanning their entire 147 years. My favorite items were the masks worn by the rumeurs when riddling the sparkling wine. One is reminded that 6 atmospheres of pressure exist between that cork and the contents of the bottle. A cork set loose could cause significant harm to one’s face! It was fascinating seeing all of these relics compared to the stainless steel tanks and automated machinery of our day. The winery is also part of the ‘NJ Wine Country passport’ program. These are common programs among wineries, the ‘Bourbon trail’ in Kentucky, and even our national state parks. The fun is in visiting them all and getting a stamp just like you would on a real passport. The regional soil here in the eastern coastal plain is sand over loam, and the land here is surrounded on all sides by water. It is just 100 ft above sea level, and being this close to the sea of course moderates the climate making for ideal growing conditions.

But now lets get to the wines…

Although it was 10am, we had experienced the early morning tasting scenario before on our trip to the North Fork. This was mainly due to time restraints, which meant packing as many winery visits as possible into the time we had. We paid a scant $3 each to have a wonderful one-on-one tasting of 8 or 9 different wines. The woman doing the tasting really knew her stuff, and was friendly and generous. She walked us through each, telling us of their origins, and any relevant points of interest with much enthusiasm.

Some of the wines we bought

Many of their wines were made from local varieties such as ‘Noah” (white) and “Cayuga” (red) as well as some Vidal Blanc, which I’d only had in ice wine from Canada and Vermont (delicious, from East Shore Vineyards).  The native varieties are all of the Phylloxera-resistant Labrusca (Native American) species.  Vidal Blanc, while being a hybrid of the two and mostly of the Vinifera species, has enough Labrusca to also effectively resisit Phylloxera. We also sampled their barrel-aged Chardonnay which was nice but didn’t knock my socks off. I was particularly fond of the ‘Garden State Red’ – that I believe included Baco Noir (a Pinot Noir hybrid), and common Vinifera varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Their Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as a wine called “Burgundy” (you won’t find 100% Pinot Noir here) were all enjoyable as well. Of those I’d say the Cabernet Sauvignon was my favorite. I love real red Burgundy too much to love a faux Burgundy I guess. Overall, they make approximately 20 different wines with up to 12 different grapes, so we didn’t get to sample all of them. When looking over their site again I saw that most of their wines from the last three vintages have won medals at this year’s Finger Lakes International Wine Competition.  Some of the other local varieties used in their wines are Cynthiana (also called Norton) and Fresello, which grow well in NJ and along the east coast states.  The Noah was very interesting because the nose was like a bouquet of their local terroir – the soil and the smell of a grassy field, wild with flora. But then on the palate it was tart and semi-dry. A complete disconnect, but a learning experience for me that is all part of why I am here! The Fresello was light and sweet, and my wife loved that one.

Spectacular regional blueberries make the grade in this American “Champagne”

We also sampled their unique and delicious “blueberry Champagne”  and “American Port.” While only Champagne can be called by that name, they are hardly the only American winery to use the name – perhaps to make it clear to the less wine-savvy of what to expect. Sparkling wine, while the correct term, is less likely to excite, some would say. And most of the world’s other most famous sparkling wines also go by their now-famous names like Prosecco and Cava, for instance. This area of the country is known for growing great blueberries, so it makes for an even more unique terroir-centric wine. And while Port can only be made in Portugal, they are at least acknowledging this fact with their ‘American Port’. And it too, was very good.

They also offer wine education classes. There’s plenty of information on their website about the classes, and the inn, golf course, and hotel on the estate.  Incidentally, they only sell their wines on site. So if you would like to try them, you will have to pay them a visit yourself! Nothing like an impromptu visit to a wonderful historic winery with unique wines well worth the visit.

Cork Art

Things are off to a good start here on the blog, and I am thrilled to have some followers already. Thank you, and I have added you and your great blogs to my blog roll.  I enjoyed reading your wine and winery reviews and learning about more wines I haven’t had. Keep it coming.

A few hours after I wrote my blog entry on the Russian River Valley Pinot Noir the other night, I was again remarking on the prickly alcohol and said out loud, “this has to be at least 13 1/2 %”.  I took a look at the label and guess what, 13.5% abv! That made me feel good, to be sure.  Clearly all that studying and tasting blind and otherwise has paid off.  For $12.95 this is a good bottle.

I thought Sunday would be a good day to talk about some fun wine art.  As part of my rabid enthusiasm for all things wine, I have had a taste for cork art recently. There’s a million and half projects out there from holiday wreaths, reindeer and candle holders to more elaborate sculptures, trivets and even large pieces of furniture (although most of those you can’t really make yourself). With a decent collection of corks at my disposal, I was eager to try a few of the ‘try-this-at-home’ projects, and get the family involved. Last Christmas we made a few reindeer using some corks, toothpicks and googly eyes from a tutorial I found online. The wreath projects I found online were impressive but I was actually short on corks as these required a few hundred corks at least. Also, it really was quite complicated and elaborate and not so kid-friendly.  I saw a few in some boutique shops that may just be easier to buy, but lets see how daring I feel this year.  So for now, the reindeer fit the bill perfectly and made for a quick, cute, and festive decoration.  Have a look at my results (above).

I also found some of the wine spectator cork trivet kits in the wine shop and I admit I have wanted one of these for a while. It actually took almost a week of reordering and moving around all the corks until I was happy with the arrangement. Also, I wanted to make sure the labels and names were visible as much as possible, and any other unique and interesting art or text. Then it was just about an hour with a glue gun to lay it all in place.  My only comment would be that there’s more space in between them in some places than I’d like, but with the diversity in sizes and shapes of corks, and the bottles they came from, I suppose there’s no real way to make any and all corks fit snugly in every case. Once I got over that I got down to the fun. While I don’t think its shop-quality craftsmanship (my handiwork, not the product itself), it was a fun creative experience and every time I look at it, those corks will tell their stories and remind me of when I drank those wines. And that’s the best part. I have another one I intend to do with more expert results once I have stocked up again on enough corks, which shouldn’t be quite as long with the two cases that just showed up.

I Heart Pinot Noir

2007 Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

2007 Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California

I don’t know about you, but I love a good Pinot Noir. This is a variety I really discovered more recently through my father-in-law who shared some of his favorites from the Willamette Valley. And, well needless to say it left a very good impression. I would have to now rank it up in my very most loved varieties. I like it French, I like it American, I like it Australian and I know it’s made in many more places. I had an amazing one from Patagonia last week in fact.  It’s just so expressive when you get it right. My wife knows about my passion for Pinot Noir and picked up a new one at the store.

This one is from the Russian River Valley in North Coast, California. I haven’t had one from here before, but I was excited because I recalled a bit of my reading from class about the region and these stellar cool climate Pinot Noirs. Is the fog the trick, or is it the moderate afternoons? It is a 2007 and I definitely see what I think is some rim variation on there. Lots of oak on the nose but not in a bad way, and a hint of pepper and red cherry. A nice little kick of alcohol and some more of that expected (or hoped for) zingy red fruit on the palate. A really nice wine, well balanced.  Now what do I make for dinner to go with it!? I once paired a chicken with pancetta dish with a red Burgundy to much affect.

I also always like it when a bottle has a well thought out and often creative back label describing the ethos and the methods of the producer and this wine. It matters, when you can interact and learn a little bit more about what it is and where its from. And I’ve yet to meet a Pinot Noir I didn’t like.

Welcome to Wining Daily

Welcome to my new blog. I consider myself a newcomer to the world of fine wine. I have had the fortune (or rather, the age) to be able to enjoy wine for nearly two decades but it wasn’t until I stumbled into the business a year and a half ago and took some classes that I really learned about it.

I started this blog to share my learning, experiences and enthusiasm for wine with anyone who’d like to listen. Regarding the name, I just love a good pun.  I’ll do my best to write daily when I have something to say. I will talk about wines that I’ve enjoyed recently, accessories that you just have to love, wine-related travel and experiences, and anything else I come up with along the way. I hope you enjoy it!